You don’t need it, but if you want it, Part 1 is here.
Here is the thing I took forever to realize about happiness: It will never be the only thing I want. Not even close.
Choosing happiness instead of those other things can be startlingly difficult and visceral work. Sometimes, I will suffer in the name of happiness. Sometimes, as counterintuitive as it might initially seem, that suffering is not only appropriate, but the only way.
Discipline is possibly the most wildly underrated facet of happiness there is, along with a very healthy respect for cause and effect. This is why I will always advocate sports to even the most uncoordinated nerdlings: They will teach you to suffer with a clear head, and they will teach you that your actions impact your reality. Your actions — not your thoughts, or wishes, or fantasies. They teach you to survive the plateau, that thankless realm where you work and work and work and get nothing in return for weeks or months before suddenly shooting forward out of the invisible cannon you’ve been unknowingly building all along.
How can anyone stand in a universe powered by physics and consider happiness to be an intellectual pursuit? Happiness is a physical battle, right down to sitting on your hands to keep them from feeding you a cupcake or biting your cheeks to keep yourself from getting into that same old argument with someone who isn’t worth it.
When I moved to California, I had entered a relationship that wasn’t going to work if I wasn’t healthy. So, for the sake of my relationship, I stopped running from certain financial realities and health concerns that were all too easy to ignore when no one was counting on me. I turned around to face them, and I decided to fix it. I did this by slashing spending down to a level that no one thinks they can survive — to a level that would hold my social life hostage for a while — and by signing on for a job that would give me health insurance and a lot of other career bonuses.
I knew that job would annihilate my well-being for a while, and I was right. I spent months feeling completely incompetent, enduring correction on mistake after mistake, working late every night. I skipped my lunch breaks. I worked weekends. I mourned the freedom I had felt as a freelancer. I shoved cheap, fast, obscenely crappy food into my face and watched the number tick upward on the scale, praying that I’d eventually be able to pull up from the free fall I was putting my body through. I didn’t make friends. I didn’t go out. I didn’t buy pretty things. I scarcely bought anything at all.
I promised myself that I could quit in a year if I still hated it. I ignored the fact that a year felt impossible.
Falling into bed was my favorite part of the day, because it meant I had survived another one without, you know, bursting into tears or screaming myself hoarse or anything.
It sucked. Really fucking hard. And knowing that this was the right thing, that this misery was what I needed, did not make it any better at all.
The thought I had most often was, It’s a good thing I’ve learned to not give a crap how I feel. Because that’s what people want you to do: to listen to your feelings, to keep yourself in a state of constant bliss. If you hate your life right now, if you are sick to death of your current reality and feel as if you’re forcing it down like a barium shake, you’re obviously doing it wrong. Except: I don’t know any successful people who don’t give themselves a little hell once in a while, who don’t know the feel of their own boots against their throats.
Anyone who tells you that it isn’t going to be hard work, that it isn’t going to hurt, that it isn’t going to cost you dearly, probably just really wants to believe that themselves. I can’t really say I blame them.
We all have our limits, of course, and a few weeks before it showed up in the sky, I was reaching mine. My thoughts were darkening toward What’s the point, anyway? and my fatigue was starting to resemble its more dangerous relative, despair. I was at the highest weight of my life — a perfectly healthy weight in medical terms, but awkward and uncomfortable and really kind of lumpy on someone with my small frame. I felt like a walking exercise in futility.
Sometimes, you can hate a plateau so much that you beat it out of spite. Hatred can become triumph. Pain can become gratitude. That conversion is the most magical thing in the world. I heartily recommend it.
It’s a feat of circumstance that I saw it at all. Once you’re mired enough in depression to make the truly epic mistake of pitying yourself, you start to perpetuate it. You keep your head down, trudge along in your sad little patterns. You forget why you’re here or how to get back home. Your calculated suffering is forgotten in favor of mindless habitual suffering even after you’ve mastered whatever you originally intended to master. I had long become one of those people who clambers onto the train, plops into my seat, and stares at my cell phone in search of some kind of consolation prize. I had made the same foolish mistake that just about all unhappy people make: I had stopped paying attention.
For whatever reason, though, I did glance upward through the train window at just the right time, and there it was: a big illuminated red heart, just floating there in the night sky, just for as long as it takes to inhale a startled breath, before it disappeared.
I blinked at the dark window as if I’d just woken up from something. When you do the same thing over and over again every morning and every night, you stop expecting the world to have anything very interesting to offer you.
We had long left the city; I couldn’t think of a reason it would be there or what it might be hanging from way out here. I’m not a spiritual person, but it felt like a reminder of something I had forgotten: In just about every corner of the world, little gifts await those who keep their eyes open.
I didn’t know who had put it there or whether it had been there the entire time. But the idea of it living up there without my knowledge, and the possibilities that suggested, pleased me enormously. Maybe it beamed its unconditional affection at me for months on end while I sat oblivious. Maybe it had been dark before, hanging invisibly over my head, awaiting some mysterious occasion.
I decided to look for it again, to see whether I could solve its mystery. And just like that, with this solitary tiny mission, I had something to look forward to.